My taste in cinema is pretty diverse, but generally when I’m going to the movies I gravitate more toward art house independent films, documentaries or action films. I see way more movies with subtitles than most people I know and I generally hate romantic comedies with the fire of a thousand suns.
Sometimes, however, you just want to watch a raunchy comedy about a talking teddy bear that enjoys smoking pot and prostitutes. So off I went to see Seth McFarland’s directorial debut Ted, starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis and McFarland as the voice of Ted. And I have to say, I was not at all disappointed. Ted is a very funny movie.
The general premise is pretty simple: As an unhappy and friendless little boy, John (Wahlberg) wishes for his teddy bear to come to life so he can have someone to talk to. Miraculously, his wish is granted and Ted is born – a walking and talking bear that promises to be John’s best friend forever. Flash forward and John is now 35 years old and still paling around with Ted, smoking too much pot and seemingly lacking all ambition (this part rang pretty true – I know several “Johns”). He is more than happy to lounge on the couch with Ted watching old episodes of Flash Gordon. Lori (Kunis), John’s girlfriend of four years, is tiring of this man-boy behavior and Ted’s constant presence in their lives. She is ready to take their relationship to the next level and that is unlikely to happen when your boyfriend is still hanging out with his teddy bear, especially one as decidedly un-PC and foul mouthed as Ted.
I have to say that the real surprise of this movie was Wahlberg. Looking over his resume, there aren’t a lot of comedies listed; the one exception is 2010’s The Other Guys (partially filmed here in Albany), where he is partnered with Will Farrell. He was fine in that movie, but Farrell did most of the comedic heavy lifting, so I walked away from that film unsure if Wahlberg could actually handle comedies. I’m pretty sure you could put a shoe in a scene with Farrell and you’d probably walk away thinking the shoe had some comic timing. But I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with his performance in Ted, especially since Ted had to be CGI-ed in later, so Wahlberg was ultimately acting to a green screen. He’s always such a tough guy in his numerous action roles, so it was nice to see a goofier side of the actor. There was also an inner sweetness to his performance that really sold his attachment to Ted. He was much better than I ever expected him to be.
Kunis was less of a revelation, as she has a solid track record in comedies, but she was solid as always as the exasperated girlfriend. I thought she did a good job of conveying the fact that Lori was not an uptight killjoy who wanted John to change completely; she could hold her own with the crass jokes that Ted and John enjoyed. Too often the girlfriends in these comedies are portrayed as shrews that are total buzz kills. She is primarily the voice of reason and the straight woman of the film, so she doesn’t get as many hilarious lines, but she makes Lori very likeable and handles the craziness around her very well. And I would seriously trade whatever I needed to in order to look like Kunis; I have a total girl crush on her. She’s beautiful, talented and seems very down to Earth. I should totally hate her, but I don’t.
Of course the real hilarity comes from Ted, voiced by McFarland with a heavy Boston accent that sounds a lot like Peter Griffin from Family Guy. There is just something inherently funny about cuss words and vulgarity coming out of the mouth of a bear who could be the distant cousin of the Snuggle mascot. It’s not at all sophisticated, but it works. The cast is rounded out with a bunch of other actors I like taking on minor supporting roles, including one totally random cameo. Unsurprising to fans of McFarland’s other work, there are some odd non sequiturs that seem to exist solely for the purpose of a joke and a cultural reference that didn’t mean much to me (I had to look up whether the Flash Gordon references were to a real thing or not. They were.).
The film is nowhere near perfect; there are some jokes that go on a little too long, others that just don’t ever take off and a few too many jokes about flatulence for my personal liking. I wish Joel McHale had been given more to do as Lori’s creep boss. I’m not sure that the subplot involving Giovanni Robisi ever really worked beyond just being very weird. I was laughing pretty hard at the list of white trash girls’ names, especially since they seemed to all be the names of a particular friend’s ex-girlfriends, until mine was mentioned. Not cool McFarland. But since it is a movie about a talking bear, I’m not holding it up to the same standard I would most films. It managed to make me laugh more often than not, so I’m willing to overlook the few missteps along the way. Even the older couple sitting in front of me was chuckling quite a bit; when they sat down I was honestly concerned that they had wandered into the wrong theater but they seemed to really enjoy it.
My affinity for frat house humor is difficult to explain, but it is also very narrow. If you are going to use crude humor, you have to do it well and there has to be something else behind it other than just shock value. Ted manages to walk that line between raunchy and entertaining very well. They even managed to sneak some romantic comedy material in there without making my head explode. If you are easily offended, it’s probably not your cup of tea and it is most decidedly not for kids. But I left the theater laughing and you can’t really ask more from a summer comedy than that.